If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already been to a ton of websites trying to figure out how to get a rush passport. Whether you lost your passport or were just procrastinating, you need a new passport right away.
Let me save you some time and money. Do not go to one of those express passport agencies. They take advantage of folks who don’t know any better—kind of like funeral directors that charge you $10,00 for a coffin that costs $1,500. Yes, there’s something called the Funeral Rule, where by law they cannot markup the price of the coffin more than 700%. Too bad this law doesn’t exist for rush
I’m going to tell you what I did to get my passport made while I waited, and then explain how any other method to get an emergency passport is just a scam.
I lost my passport back in February. I’ve been going through airport security the last 4 months with no ID of any kind—boarding pass only. Been doing that 3-4 times a week and have gotten through every time. The downside is that I sometimes get the deluxe massage, but usually it’s just fine. But now that I had to fly internationally, I had to have a passport to clear customs. So why do things in advance when you can wait to the absolute last minute to test your skills?
Step 1: Call the National Passport Information Center
This toll free number is provided by the government. 877-487-2778. Listen carefully, as you have to find the right option to schedule an appointment at a regional office. “1” is for the East Coast, “2” is for the West Coast, and so forth. Then you have to select the city from within that region. Unless you live in the sticks, you should be able to find your city in that list. I chose Minneapolis, since that’s where I happened to be.
The automated system makes you wade through a list of 30 minute slots for your appointment, from 8 am all the way to late afternoon. I had a 5 pm flight and I don’t like to get up early, so I chose a 2 pm appointment. In fact, I called the system again and booked a 2:30 pm slot, too, just to be safe. The system doesn’t check for duplicate entries. And you can keep pressing “2” to fast forward to the next slot if you don’t want to wait for them to take a whole minute to re-read the time slot and address of the passport office.
Time spent: 10 minutes.
Step 2: Go to Walgreens to get your photo taken.
I hopped in a cab from my hotel and went to the nearest Walgreens. In the cab, I called ahead to ensure there was no line at the photo department. The photo machine was broken, so I went to one 2 miles away, which was still on my way to downtown. Thank you, Google Maps!
They snapped my picture with a digital camera and 10 minutes later I walked out with 2 small photos, of which the passport office needed only one of them.
Time spent: 20 minutes.
Step 3: Go downtown to the passport office.
The cabbie drove me 8 miles into downtown. And on the way, I filled out the 3 page form needed to get a replacement passport—one page on how it was lost and 2 pages for the new passport application. Trying to fill out forms in a moving car is tricky, but the passport folks didn’t seem to care.
Time spent: 15 minutes.
Step 4: My passport office visit.
There was nobody in the place except a couple clerks, so I was able to walk right up and handle
things immediately. The first thing they said was “Are you traveling today?” And they said it in such a casual way that it sounded like they do this sort of thing all the time. I was fully expecting to tell them “yes” and then be pounced upon—lectured about how I should have planned in advance and
“too bad” for me. But instead, the clerk said that when there’s a legitimate need for a passport, they can print them right there—and he motioned to the back office where they had some machines.
All I needed to justify the emergency was my flight confirmation, which I didn’t have printed. But lucky for me, they had some modern computers and printers right there. So I logged into my gmail to print out the flight confirmation. It cost me nothing. Daresay, the internet was fast. So I spent an extra 5 minutes checking my email, since I couldn’t help but see what else was going on in our company.
This is your tax dollars at work, folks.
When I handed my paperwork to the clerk, I had no driver’s license, social security card, or ID of any sort. But I did have a copy of my birth certificate, which I had paid some random guy $20 on Craigslist to wait in line in the city where I was born to get this document. In case you’re wondering, anyone can get a copy of YOUR birth certificate—they need only know where you were born. No ID required to get it—just a cashier’s check.
My application was incomplete—I didn’t know offhand the dates of birth of my mother and father. So the clerk told me to just estimate, which I did. The rest of the forms were simple—name, address, social security number, and a few simple bits of info. That part took only a few minutes.
What was cool about this part of my journey was that the guy who processed my passport answered my questions on the spot. Had I filled out the forms and submitted them FedEx to some bureaucracy in the
sky, who knows if I would have gotten rejected or had an opportunity to correct whatever information might be wrong. If I had used one of these 3rd party services, instead of dealing with Uncle Sam himself, I’d be at the mercy of some person working from their kitchen running their internet-based passport
If you have actually tried searching on Google for “rush passport services” or a related search, you’ll find a bunch of folks who claim to have special access to the passport folks. They hint they can somehow jump the line for you and that some reputable organizations use them for passports. But when you actually call up their phone number (and most don’t even have a phone number or don’t answer it), you will often hear kids in the background or other sounds that are questionable. Then when you look for reviews of these businesses, you get horror story after horror story about how they charged someone $550 for an express passport, rejected it because some field on the form wasn’t filled out perfectly, pocketed the money, and were never heard from again. Don’t let this be you.
The passport folks told me that citizens get ripped off all the time when using these services, often because they don’t realize that if they just went downtown, they could get their passport right there on the spot, plus not pay someone a $300 fee to merely FedEx your forms both ways for you. You could FedEx it yourself, if you’re really too lazy to go downtown—so why pay a middleman? The passport folks said that they don’t promote their services, so that’s why these scammers exist. And it was that statement that prompted me to write this article.
This step included me surfing the internet and chit-chatting with the passport folks in disbelief about how simple this process was.
Time spent: 25 minutes.
Step 5: Payment and success.
I gave the clerk my debit card and it was done in minutes. I opted to get the passbook (what most people know as the passport with many pages in it), as well as the passcard (something that looks like a driver’s license), which was $30 more. There is a $60 expedite fee (well worth it to have it done right away) and a $25 execution fee. I don’t know what the $40 security surcharge is, but I was more than happy to pay it. The passport itself was $70, but when you added everything up, it was $237.72.
Note that if you had used some other agency, you’d still have to pay these same fees, except a few hundred dollars for that agency to make a profit on your ignorance, plus FedEx both ways.
Time spent, including gloating over my minor victory: 5 minutes.
Total elapsed time: 75 minutes.
And from there, I had plenty of time to leisurely take the light rail to the airport and have a sit down lunch before having to board.
My hope is that this article saved you a ton of grief and perhaps some money. The government isn’t very good about sharing the good things it has available to us. So I feel it’s our duty to make sure that anyone else who needs a passport right away is able to do so without needing to get stressed about it or get ripped off.
If this article has helped you or if you’d like to share your experience with others, please do so in the comments below.
And if you’d like a chuckle, check out this post about the time I forgot my laptop, passport, and wallet in a conference room. Seriously.